US fills the gap in the Caucasus

Noyan Tapan Highlights #12(514)
29 March, 2004

US fills the gap in the Caucasus
By Haroutiun Khachatrian

Richard Armitage, Deputy State Secretary of the United States, stayed in
Yerevan for several hours only. But this did not lower the importance of
this visit, aimed as he said, to activate political dialogue with Armenia.
Apparently, his principal goal was discussion about regional problems,
rather than internal affairs of Armenia, as some analysts supposed.

During his press conference after the meeting with the president Robert
Kocharian (see page 6 for a detailed report), Mr. Armitage presented what
can be regarded as the US responses to recent challenges in the South
Caucasus region. In particular:

– The United States keep their line on encouraging re-opening of the
Turkish-Armenian border. Richard Armitage apparently did not share the
vision of the Azeri President Ilham Aliyev that it might hamper the
settlement in Nagorno Karabakh.

– “We are proud to be the co-chair of the Minsk group”. This can be regarded
as a direct response to the recent criticism of official Baku about the
inefficiency of the activities of the Minsk group and its co-chairman.

– “The long-term partnership is practically impossible, if there are
unsolved problems, but the economic cooperation has its logics: with the
time people start speaking proceeded from their own interests and with the
time the sides start settling the accumulated problems. The economic and
political problems should be settled in parallel”. These words of Armitage
again contradict to the position of Azerbaijan which tends to avoid any
contacts (not only economic) with Armenia before the Karabakh problem is

In brief, Washington mostly reiterated its previous positions regarding the
key problems of the South Caucasus region. What is new, is that these
positions have recently become the target of criticism, openly or
indirectly, by the new Azeri leader. To be more precise, such criticism
existed well before Ilham Aliyev replaced his father as president. But,
after his official inauguration, the line of official Baku has become more
and more like an universal protest that everybody is wrong in his attitude
to Azerbaijan and the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. For this reason, the
meeting of Armitage with Ilham Aliyev (it will take place after the deadline
of this issue), is the most important event of Armitage’s trip. It will show
how realistic are the hopes about improvement in the climate in the region,
or even the hopes about possible progress in the conflict settlement.